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Fishery management on the lower Kuskokwim River will switch from federal to state control

The Kuskokwim River is open full time to gillnets upstream of the Kalskag Bluffs, pictured here.
Petra Harpak
/
The Kuskokwim River is open full time to gillnets upstream of the Kalskag Bluffs, pictured here.

Federal fishing regulations on the lower Kuskokwim River will end at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, July 21. At this time, fishery management within the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge will go back to state control. This change applies from the Kuskokwim River mouth upstream to Aniak.

For now, that means only one change for subsistence fishers. Under federal regulation, chinook salmon caught by rod and reel in the area known as the “Aniak Box,” at the confluence of the Aniak and Kuskokwim Rivers, could be harvested. But under state regulation, chinook salmon caught by rod and reel in the Aniak Box will have to be returned to the water alive.

Federal managers took control of the lower river salmon fishery on June 1. The feds have managed this fishery since 2014 in order to limit fishing to local subsistence users due to low chinook runs. This year they were also concerned about low chum runs following last summer’s lowest chum return on record.

With over 90% of the chum, chinook, and sockeye run past Bethel, the feds are no longer concerned about restricting harvests on the lower river.

Kevin Whitworth is the Acting Executive Director for the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which manages the fishery in consultation with the feds. He said that another reason managers are lifting federal restrictions is because the number of fishers participating in recent openers has dropped, reducing pressure on the runs.

“Most people are focusing on berries, and also folks are waiting for the coho salmon to start arriving," Whitworth said during this week’s Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group teleconference.

On that call, state fishery manager Nick Smith announced his intention to keep the lower river, downstream of the Kalskag Bluffs, closed to gillnets through the end of the month. He says that would allow the chum salmon run to finish passing through those waters.

“My management recommendation is to keep the lower river closed until Sunday, July 31, at which time we’d rescind all of the current management actions that are in place, so any of the [gillnet] size or length restrictions, the retention of chum and chinook in any of the selective gears. We’d just be going to an open fishery for the entire river," Smith said.

However, gillnets would not be allowed in tributaries where chinook salmon are known to spawn. Those tributary rivers include the Eek, Kwethluk, Kasigluk, Kisaralik, Tuluksak, and Aniak Rivers. Chinook salmon caught with other gear in these rivers must be returned to the water alive. Smith is considering lifting restrictions on these tributaries on Aug. 31.

Corrected: July 21, 2022 at 9:05 AM AKDT
A previous version of this story said the federal to state fishery management handoff will occur at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, June 21. That is incorrect. It will occur at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, July 21
Anna Rose MacArthur is the KYUK News Director. She has worked at KYUK since 2015 and previously worked at KNOM in Nome, Alaska.
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